If I would have to say what is the drink that better represents India, without a doubt Chai would be my answer. This sweet spiced tea is incredibly addictive! To prepare it, the best back tea is boiled in a mixture of milk and water with a blend of spices (cardamom, fresh ginger, cloves, cinnamon,…) and sugar. Every masala chai is different from the others, and every household has their own particular way of preparing it but they are all just incredibly tasty. After tasting the Indian Chai I don’t know if I’ll be able to get used to Irish Barry’s tea again. Good coffee can also be found in India, but mostly in the south where locals tend to replace the chai with coffee that is brewed in the area.
Many are the options to calm the thirst on those hot days when visiting India, from the fresh fruit juices to the different soft drinks such as Slice (mango flavored drink), 7th up (soda), Limca (lemon & lime fizzy drink), Thumbs Up (Indian cola) and the usual Sprite, Coke, Mountain Dew and Fanta. But our favorites were fresh lime soda and Mirinda (which brought Isma many memories from his childhood).
Beers, wines and spirits aren’t too widely available in India (both taxes and religion have something to do with this). In many bars and restaurants you won’t find any alcoholic beverages in the menu, but if you ask for it they might sell it to you under the table. Aside KingFisher and King’s (that we tried in Palolem), we didn’t get to find any other local beer. In Palolem we also found an Indian rum named Old Monk, which was sold to us as the rum that the Indian soldiers used to drink, and true or not we gave it a go!
And of course, I can’t forget to mention lassis, a yogurt and fresh fruit smoothies that are so good for breakfast. Plain and banana lassis are the most traditional ones, but in Jodhpur they have a special lassi flavored with saffron and butter, yummm so good!
Street food is a very important part of Indian culture. With most of the life being done outdoors it normal that there are so many food stalls. They are literally everywhere!! Normally so cheap and ready in seconds it was our choice for lunch many days.
The first few days we were a little bit cautious regarding where to eat, we didn’t know if our stomachs were ready to deal with the street cooking, but in the end we just relaxed and enjoyed it. If you go to India don’t forget to try some of these snacks:
- Samosas. Probably one of the better known Indian savory snacks, samosas are triangle shaped stuffed and fried pastries. They can have different fillings and they can be served with chutney or in chaat (broken into pieces and adding either curry or chutney to it).
- Pakora. This vegetables dipped in spicy butter and then deep fried snack is an all time favorite in India.
Similar flavours can be experienced in North and South India, though food tends to be a little bit more spicy in the south (to our surprise it wasn’t as spicy as we expected). Some peculiarities of the food from the south are that bread tends to be replaced by rice, that fish is more widely used for cooking and that flavours are much more coconutty.
Thalis, curries, breads… are also very tasty and very easy to find in southern India, but as there were so many other interesting local specialties that we wanted to try, we kind of forgot about them. These are some of the dishes we tasted in Goa and Kerala:
- Dosa. Savory Indian pancakes made with rice and urad dal (black lentils), served hot, stuffed with vegetable fillings and accompanied with sauces. Trully adictive! I hope that I can find urad dal back at home…
- Uttapam. Uttapams can somehow be described as the Indian pizzas. This thick pancake is made with a rice and lentils batter (similar to the one used for dosas) to which onions and tomatoes are added. Yummy, a healthy alternative to dosas.
All the different flavours, the many textures, the intense aromas and the unusual cooking techniques make the Indian cuisine so incredible and unique. We ate at many dhabas, restaurants and street stalls, we took a cooking course (at Spice Paradise in Jodhpur with Rekha), we tried Beena’s delicious home cooking when visiting Rajesh, and even though we had both previously tried Indian food, we kept being surprised with new flavours every day. We of course did as the locals and ate with our hands, and strange as it sound, everything tastes much better when eaten with your fingertips!
It is impossible to describe in a couple of posts what Indian food is like, I would say that it’s not even possible to do it in a book. And being India such a huge country it is normal that North Indian tastes are very different to South Indian ones. These are some of the pillars of North Indian cuisine:
- The spices. So important in Indian cooking, the spices are the starting point for every dish and a good spice box is a must in every kitchen. Many cooks, after years of practice trying to find a good balance, are experts in the mixing of spices and don’t like sharing the secrets of their masala (spice mix).
Yes, I guess that it must be a bit unexpected to read a Tibetan food post within the Indian Food section in our blog but it has a very easy explanation: McLeodGanj! McLeodGanj has a very tight relation with Tibet, and when we were there we saw advertisements for Tibetan cooking courses so we didn’t miss the opportunity. The course consisted of three lessons where we learned how to make Tibetan breads, soups and the famous momos (of which we have been talking so much).
Our first lesson was breads. Sangye showed us how to make Tibetan brown bread, tigmo and bhalek. While the procedure for making the dough was very similar for the three types of breads, the ingredients and the cooking was different.
- The brown bread, made with whole wheat flour and cooked in a frying pan with a bit of oil, was the sweetest of the three. It’s a great type of bread to have for breakfast with a bit of honey or butter.
- Bhalek is a thick white bread stuffed with spiced vegetables, that is also cooked in a frying pan with a bit of oil. Tasty but very, very filling!
- Tigmo was probably the strangest of the three types we cooked. As Bhalek, it is made with white flour but this one is steamed and not fried. It is usually served as accompaniment of fried vegetables, soups..